FW: Help my students revolutionize design for new media!

Dan Kohn (dan@teledesic.com)
Thu, 6 Mar 1997 14:19:53 -0800

Perhaps relevant to good site design discussion.

- dan

-----Original Message-----
From: Phil Agre [SMTP:pagre@weber.ucsd.edu]
Sent: Wednesday, March 05, 1997 8:58 PM
To: rre@weber.ucsd.edu
Subject: Help my students revolutionize design for new media!

Dear Friends of the Red Rock Eater,

The students in my Internet class this term are busily revolutionizing
the way that Internet materials such as Web pages are designed. And
you can help. Please send them comments on their draft class projects!

Our purpose in this course is not to design cool Web pages. Instead,
we are conducting rigorous analyses of prospective user communities.
We start by mapping out the following sorts of entities:

* Communities. By which we mean interest communities -- coherent groups
of people who have something important in common, be it a job title,
a medical condition, a political belief, a hobby, or whatever.

* Relationships. The relationships between communities that shape their
lives. For example, cancer patients have relationships with doctors,
insurers, family members, and so on.

* Activities. The typified forms of activity that people in a given
community engage in, regardless of the technologies they use.

* Media. The communications media that the people in a community use in
their activities. We include all of the media -- new or old, electronic
or mechanical.

* Genres. The genres of communicative materials that the people construct
and use in their activities. It turns out that the analysis of genres
is the key to reasoning about the usefulness of new media.

Having mapped out *all* of the communities, relationships, activities,
media, and genres that shape a user community's life, it becomes possible
to reason about possible designs. Should existing genres be moved into
new media? What else will be happening when someone uses the new system?
What questions will users have in mind? What expectations will they carry
over from the genres that they are used to? What aspects of the activity
make a given medium practical or impractical? And so on.

My students have been preparing case studies in this type of analysis.
This is still the just analysis stage -- some of them will start the
actual design and implementation process next term. Each case study
discusses a particular community, usually under these four headings:

* Background. The communities and relationships that define the social
structure of this world.

* Foreground. The activities that comprise daily life in the community
under study, and what media and genres these activities involve.

* Design issues. Considerations to keep in mind when designing new
media for this community, and some scenarios of possible designs that
illustrate the analysis.

* Existing systems. Links to some existing Web pages that are directed
at the particular community being analyzed, or to similar communities,
together with an assessment of the pages' likely usefulness, given the
considerations just presented.

The students' draft projects are fascinating and informative, and you
are warmly invited to read them and offer comments. Please aim your Web
browser at:


You will find the home page for our class. This page includes hyperlinks
to the class manifesto, whose title is "Designing genres for new media",
and other relevant texts. Most importantly, it includes a hyperlink to
the page that lists all of the students' names, e-mail addresses, and
project topics. Keep in mind that these are undergraduates, that they are
showing you draft projects and not finished work, and above all that they
are pioneering a new genre of writing that doesn't yet have any fixed rules
or good examples to work from. Comments could include content, writing,
analysis, usefulness, accuracy, or whatever other sorts of responses you
had when reading.

Comments before March 12th will arrive in time to influence the final
version of the project. I'll send another message to RRE when the final
projects are available for reading.

Thanks very much